So the start of yet another year comes around –along with the thoughts of how we are going to do things better. At the ELTons Innovation Awards ceremony at the end of last year, I was amazed by the range of teaching situations our profession covers and how many millions of people spend their lives encouraging children, young adults and older people to speak English. The reasons for learning the language are many, but all learners rely on engaging materials – adapted where necessary to suit a specific place and need – and inspiring teachers. I heard so many stories that evening of people who had seen an opportunity to create something really useful for teachers and learners, had then found others to support them and develop the idea, and finally provided people with the finished product. Whether it is the editor guiding the writer, the mentor advising the teacher or the tutor helping the learner, all these relationships are based on trust and the genuine feeling that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

I see our magazine as a place where teachers all over the world can share their ideas and where readers will find descriptions of classes with similar characteristics to those they see most days themselves. The observations made and the solutions offered to problems are given with the real expectation that others will try them out and, hopefully, make their teaching more enjoyable and efficient.

To start the year, we are looking at probably the most fundamental skill of any language: speaking. At the awards evening, I was struck by how complex the whole idea of conversation is. In a room of two or three hundred people, we had to find people to talk to, topics to cover, friends to introduce and people to meet for the first time. We took turns listening and speaking, understanding a huge array of cultural references, we used the appropriate register and spoke at the right volume. On top of that, we had to hold a drink, accept or turn down food being offered, keep our eyes open for other people we knew, as well as remain interested in the current conversation. There was a lot going on and that was all in my own language!

Years ago, I remember testing a man from France who had just arrived in Oxford for a one-week immersion course. He was a good intermediate level with a reasonable vocabulary and syntax which was perfectly understandable. His pronunciation was not the best and his listening was rusty to say the least. When I asked him what he wanted to work on that week he replied ‘grammar’. Like so many people, his assumption was that you cannot converse well without a solid grounding in grammar and vocabulary. My suggestion that we began with developing his speaking skills was met with a certain scepticism, but he soon adapted well to oral-based activities from which we worked on any emerging grammar and vocabulary issues. It doesn’t make it less of a lesson to start with a ‘chat’ to see what emerges. You could indeed argue that the learner’s real and immediate needs can only come out in this way – needing to express an idea and not being able to do it with accuracy and clarity, avoiding ambiguity.

As for most issues, I received a huge number of articles from teachers, and I have selected, as ever, a good range of backgrounds and contexts. One thing I did do, however, just for this issue, was to ask some teachers I know to offer one good speaking activity for you to take away at the start of the year. You will find them in our It works in practice section and I am sure that at least one of them will fit your needs!

Turning to 2023, we need to be optimistic. We can travel a little more freely, meet up again without the worry of masks, and probably teach our classes the way we want to – whether that is face to face or online. Wherever you are teaching, remember you are doing one of the most important jobs in the world: educating people and helping them to connect with others – whether now or in the future. I hope you have a great year, that your teaching continues to inspire your learners and you all stay safe.

Happy New Year!

Robert McLarty